Topic outline

  • Course Information

    Sociology is the scientific study of society. As such, it closely examines human interactions and cultural phenomena, including topics like inequality and urbanization and the effects of these on groups and individuals. To do their work, sociologists rely on a philosophy of science called positivism, which you will study in Unit 1. The philosophy of positivism asserts that authentic knowledge, or truth, can only be gained through empirical observations. In other words, we need to be able to experience our observations or use scientific measurement with a form of sensory experience, as opposed to using faith-based or emotional experiences.

    Another central concept to sociology is that of the sociological imagination. The sociological imagination allows sociologists to make connections between personal experiences and larger social issues. For example, did you know the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world? In order to understand this trend, sociologists use scientific methods to make concrete connections between social issues like sex education in schools, sexualization in the media, and poverty and the personal issue of teenage sexual activity and pregnancy.

    This course is designed to introduce you to a range of basic sociological principles so that you can develop your own sociological imagination. You will learn about the origins of sociology as a discipline and be introduced to major sociological theories and methods of research. You will also explore such topics as sex and gender, deviance, and racism. As you move through the course, try to develop your sociological imagination by relating the topics and theories you read about to your own life experiences.

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  • Unit 1: Introduction to Sociology

    In this unit, you will be introduced to the discipline of sociology. You will learn about the development of sociology as a field of research and discover various theoretical perspectives central to the study of society. You will also take a look at the process of sociological research and explore different ethical concerns social scientists and researchers face in their work. In addition, you will learn why it is worthwhile to study sociology and how sociology can be applied in the real world.

    For example, did you know that sociologists helped the Supreme Court end "separate but equal” racial segregation in the United States? It might also interest you to know that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Robin Williams, and First Lady Michelle Obama were all sociology majors.

    Sociologists have helped change and mold the social world we know today, and sociology continues to be an exciting topic to study because it teaches people how they fit into the bigger picture of society. We can look at ourselves through a sociological perspective to see how we classify ourselves and how others classify us. This is an invaluable tool for living and working in an increasingly diverse and globalized world.

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  • Unit 2: Culture, the Socialized Self, and the Individual in Society

    This unit will expose you to some of the most fascinating aspects of sociology. You will be introduced to such sociological concerns as culture, social interaction, groups and organizations, deviance and social control, and media and technology. As you explore these areas of sociological study, you will gain insight into some of the most common unwritten rules for behavior in our social world. Then, you will investigate why these social rules are so significant in our everyday interactions. For example, what would happen if you deliberately distrusted social order by committing even a minor social offense like cutting in line, walking backwards, or wearing two different shoes? It's the unwritten rules (or normative behaviors) that do not permit this kind of deviance without reactions (sometimes hostile) from social actors.

    Finally, you will be given the opportunity to think critically about how technology has affected our social interactions as well as how it has affected deviant behavior. Think about Facebook. While it is a virtual interactive world, it has very much impacted our social thinking. For example, friend has been turned into a verb, and we can use Facebook to like something, bridging our lives and experiences with hundreds of others in seconds.

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  • Unit 3: Social Inequality

    In this unit, you will address the growing concerns of global and national inequality. You will explore questions like how did wealth become concentrated in some nations? And how can we address the needs of the world's population when we live in a world with more than 7 billion people?

    You will also be introduced to institutionalized inequalities, such as racism, sexism, and ageism, and delve into questions like how do our own prejudices guide our interactions? And how might we overcome our preconceived notions that lead to prejudice?

    In addition, we will discuss the differences between sex and gender, along with issues like gender identity and sexuality. In this phase of the unit, we will explore various theoretical perspectives on sex and gender in order to demonstrate a description of the topics as well as alleviate bias from the description (not always an easy feat).

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  • Unit 4: Institutions

    This unit will introduce you to some of the most powerful and influential social institutions: family, religion, education, and government. First, you will study the institution of family. Did you know the number of unmarried couples in the United States grew from fewer than 1 million in the 1970s to 6.4 million in 2008? Now, cohabiting couples account for 10 percent of all opposite-sex couples in the United States! This information is significant to sociologists (and you) because these numbers indicate dramatic changes in the structure of the American family.

    Next you will take a look at religion. Religion, like family, is yet another significant indicator of social structures within a culture. It is important to note that you will be studying religion from a sociological perspective, not a religious perspective. For instance, sociologist Émile Durkheim studied the functions of religion within a society. Durkheim found that some people use religion for healing and faith, others use it for communal bond, and even others may use it for understanding "the meaning of life.” All of these functions of religion will affect the society's structure and balance.

    You will also study the American school and educational systems. In sociology, we understand education to be both a social problem and a social solution. You will learn how schools can be agents for social change - tools that can break even poverty or racism - as well as how education can be a social problem, like when schools become drop-out factories due to low funding or high levels of institutional disorganization. In addition, we often observe political and religious opposition to specific curriculum in schools, such as adequate sex education or the concept of evolution. These are the kinds of questions sociologists consider when studying schools and education.

    Finally, you will learn about government and politics as well as work and the economy from a sociological perspective. In these sections, you will be challenged to define power - is it something you are born into? Is it something you earn? Who decides your level of social power? You will study power, work, and economy (one of the world's earliest social structures) by exploring various types of economic systems and their functions in societies.

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  • Unit 5: Social Change and Social Issues

    In your final unit for the course, you will learn about the great social issues surrounding health care, urbanization, and social movements. The sociology of health encompasses social epidemiology, disease, mental health, disability, and medicalization. You will discover that the way we perceive and treat medicine and health care constantly evolves. Furthermore, as you study the sociology of health, you will be challenged to answer questions like: What does health mean to you? How do you feel about legalized drugs? And are too many people on prescription medicines in America?

    Also, in this unit, you will read about population, urbanization, and the environment. You will explore possible reasons for the migration of people from rural areas to urban areas as well as how these shifts in population and urbanization may affect the environment.

    Lastly, you will study different types of social movements. Social movements are typically of a large scale and have great social impact; although, they usually start out as grassroots organizations, relying heavily on word of mouth. Grassroots movements that gain success, however, often become institutionalized and evolve into a more fixed and formal part of the social structure.

    For example, the Second Wave of Feminism, which occurred from the 1960s through the 1980s, started as a grassroots movement to fight against inequalities between the sexes. Men and women who participated in this movement typically did not belong to formal organizations. Instead, they spread the word of their cause through conscious-raising groups in hopes of creating social change. One such group was destined to become the National Organization for Women (NOW). Started by a group of about 28 women in 1966, NOW remains one of the prominent political and social voices for women's rights today with a membership of over 500,000. Indeed, we are still witnessing changes instigated by the Second Wave of Feminism, such as stronger legislation protecting women from discrimination in the workplace and from abuse in the home.

    As you take a closer look at social movements, you will explore the questions: How does collective behavior affect social change? How does social change differ on state, national, and global levels? And how do different theoretical perspectives interpret social movements?

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  • Optional Course Evaluation Survey

    Please take a few moments to provide some feedback about this course at the link below. Consider completing the survey whether you have completed the course, you are nearly at that point, or you have just come to study one unit or a few units of this course.

    Link: Optional Course Evaluation Survey (HTML)

    Your feedback will focus our efforts to continually improve our course design, content, technology, and general ease-of-use. Additionally, your input will be considered alongside our consulting professors' evaluation of the course during its next round of peer review. As always, please report urgent course experience concerns to contact@saylor.org and/or our Discourse forums.

  • Final Exam

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